Applying to graduate school is part odyssey, part Sisyphean task. Presumably, sometime around mid January I can stop stressing about where I’m applying and start to relax, and stress about where I’ll be accepted. In the meantime, aside from getting ones ducks in a row with regards to recs, statements, apps, application dollars… it’s also paramount to actually figure out where to send those ducks.
Classical methods involve balancing: where I’d like to go, who I’d like to work for once I’m there, who else is there if the top research pick doesn’t work out, and where I’d actually like to live, so on, and so forth. It’s a slow-going process, to say the least. Whether you’d consider it being “picky” or being “precise”, striking this perfect balance is nigh-impossible. Hell, even Scripps doesn’t even hold up to ALL the desirable attributes (never mind the odds against actually getting accepted): Realistically, out of the power-trio of Baran, Boger, and Nicolaou, I’m not that interested in Boger’s work, and preliminarily, I think I’d only like to actually work with Baran. Nicolaou’s great and all, but the straight up factory-like nature of his work is a little off-putting. Thus, we have a violation of the “3 or more” rule for the average grad student. What with my narrowest of criteria, I’d be willing to take two, but holding out for just one professor is obviously a dicey move.
If my graduate school experience is going to involve a grueling look at numerous different pathways, with the distinct possibility of finding out that each different route is only “ok,” then I can at least try to cut some needless toil out the application process. Might I present:
Combinatorial Approach to Grad Schools for the Organic Chemist: Pick a general field of study, and tally the number of professors at each university that have any interest in that. You don’t need to get embroiled in the nitty gritty of what each one does, and don’t worry if they’re not actually doing stuff you want to, it’s just a starting point. Now, plot these values against the “rank” of the NMR facilities offered at that institution. (highest field walkup spectrometer is first, and so on. in the event of a tie, which ever one has more higher-field units wins. Eg, School 1 with 600, 500, and 400MHz walkup NMRs beats School 2 with 500, 400, 300, but loses to School 3 with 600, 500, 500, 400.) Start looking at schools along diagonal, if need be, “diversify” from “lead” schools.
Presto. Grad school applications solved!
But for real though, once the heat of application season is over, I’m curious to see if analysis like this could have better predicted the “spread” of applications of myself and friends better than we could by the “traditional” means….